Deputy Secretary Connor Outlines Land Buy-Back Program Accomplishments

Individual American Indians have been paid more than $225 million through the Interior Department’s Land Buy-Back Program.
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Individual American Indians have been paid more than $225 million through the Interior Department’s Land Buy-Back Program.

The announcement was made last week by Mike Connor, deputy secretary of the Interior. The Buy-Back Program payments have restored the equivalent of 375,000 acres to tribal governments during the first year of the Program according to an Interior press release.

In an exclusive interview with ICTMN prior to the announcement Connor noted that there are “approximately 245,000 owners,” and said “we’ve got 3 million fractional interests and we’ve got 150 reservations, 40 of which comprise about 90 percent of the fractional interest.”

RELATED: ICTMN Exclusive: Interior’s Mike Connor Discusses Tribal Land Buy-Back Program

In his announcement Connor said 21 additional locations have been selected for the Program to be implemented through the middle of 2017. With these 21 new locations the total number of locations actively engaged in the Program to 42.

“We have turned the words of the Cobell Settlement into actions this year, taking significant and lasting steps toward our goal of making sure every available dollar is invested in land for tribal communities,” Connor said.

Connor is chair of the oversight board of the Program.

“The Program is an exceptional opportunity that cannot be taken for granted. That is why we are committed to learning from every sale, and every location, to make adjustments where necessary that are transparent and fair to ensure that landowners are given every opportunity to make informed decisions about the potential sale of their land at fair market value,” Connor said.

The Buy-Back Program fulfills the priorities laid out by the Obama Administration’s goal in improving and building effective partnerships with American Indian communities, promote sustainable economic development and tribal culture and protect tribal lands.

“In addition to the important momentum the Program has developed thus far, today’s announcement of 21 additional locations for implementation demonstrates our commitment to moving as swiftly as possible to ensure that the program has the widest possible impact across Indian country over the life of the program,” said Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn. “I am confident that lessons learned by the Program staff so far, will be swiftly adapted, increasing flexibility and ensuring the Program’s ability to succeed across a diverse range of tribal communities, each presenting different challenges.”

The Buy-Back Program has a 10-year window to purchase fractional interests from willing sellers at fair market value using $1.9 billion set aside from the historic Cobell Settlement.

When asked if Interior was on track to dispense all the funds within the 10-year time frame prior to his announcement, Connor said, “We are hopeful and we are optimistic.”